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Apostolic Visitation of the Irish Church: A First Step Towards a Brighter Future?

06/03/2010 06:10 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Possible change in the wind does carry a delicate hint of hope, and today that fragrance is abounding in the air of Ireland. The Pope is making good on his previous promise to probe into the Irish Church's crimes against minors by sending numerous Archbishops to the area under the blanket authority of an Apostolic Visitation.

In more common language the Pope is pushing for an investigation into the shameful past of the Church in Ireland, looking to "respond adequately to the situation caused by the tragic cases of abuse perpetrated by priests and religious upon minors." With the directive of the Pope himself the group of visiting leaders seems likely to have the authority to enact change if it so desires.

This is a small ray of sunshine into a room that has been dark these several millennia. As I have written before, child abuse is the very opposite of a new problem in the Holy Roman Church; it is a problem as old as the Church itself. As small as this initial pulse of brightness may seem, we need to accept reality as it is: this could be the advent of something that will finally change the future of the Church to not reflect its past.

However, we must not let our vigilance of the Holy See abate in the slightest. Our first directive as global citizens and humans is to recognize that child abuse is a continuing problem in the Church. We will not tolerate anything less than a shakeup of the Church's systems and methods for handling the problem of child abuse, the release of all known abusers still in the Catholic Church to the appropriate legal authorities, and the expulsion of all known abusers from the Vatican proper. The tolerance for child abuse should be the same inside a church as it is outside: zero.

Yes, there are a thousand miles to walk, and we only may have taken the first step, but a step towards a destination is a world of change from the denial of a necessary expedition. As they say, admitting that you have a problem is the first step towards its correction.

Let us watch as the Vatican in Ireland views the wreckage that it has wrought, and let us see if it can stomach the human misery without pushing forth drastic changes. If they walk from that land with nothing more than calls for prayer and spiritual propitiations, the people of Ireland have been horribly jilted. The Church will have said in complete signed unwritten verse that the status quo is to be the way of the Church and that the past will again be the future.

We may not see that. We may see a break with history, and a new way forward from a Church with a troubled past, a scandalous present, and a leader who himself at one point was a dedicated advocate of sweeping abuse under the rug. Every human deserves a chance to turn over a new leaf, and so we owe it to greater humanity to grant them a window of time in which they can redeem themselves. They may, of course, take the interval to hang themselves with their own actions, but that is not for us to decide.

The die is cast, and the pieces are in motion. Mr. Ratzinger, it is your turn.